Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) work for NASA. Acting as supervisor, Dorothy hands out the assignments to the other women in the colored computers department. The women are assigned to different teams to assist with computations. With John Glenn’s (Glen Powell) first orbit mission approaching, everyone at NASA is working feverishly to try to beat the Russians into space.
Mary is assigned to the engineering department, working on the space capsule Glenn will pilot. Her supervisor, recognizing her talent for engineering questions why she is not already an engineer. Mary goes to court to get into the only engineering classes, held at an all-white school.
With a new IBM super-computer recently installed, which can complete calculations at a rate exponentially higher than any team of humans can keep up with, Dorothy realizes her entire team’s future at NASA is at risk. Dorothy takes it upon herself to learn the programming language for the IBM, which she then teaches to her fellow computers. When the men in charge of the IBM are not able to get it to function, Dorothy steps in and gets it up and running.
Katherine is assigned to the Space Task Group, a team tasked with calculating trajectories for the rocket’s launch and the capsule’s reentry. Katherine must deal with the segregation of NASA’s campus, as well as Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), the lead on the team, and the rest of the group who do not take kindly to having an African-American double checking his work. Her new boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), takes the initiative to make it easier for her to focus more on her work.
Hidden Figures is based on the amazing true story of three African-American women working at NASA who force the people they work for to take them seriously. They break down several barriers for African-Americans and women.
The casting is perfect for the film with Taraji P. Henson as the brilliant, driven Katherine Johnson; Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, the determined would-be supervisor; and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, who is as feisty as she is smart. Not only did these women have to prove themselves to be as good as men and their white counterparts, but they had lives and families at home that had to be tended to. I would like to think Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison character is based on an actual person. If so, he deserves some credit for recognizing how valuable these women were and taking the initiative to help remove the barriers of discrimination. Jim Parsons, who normally grates on me, even did a good job in the film.
If you weren’t a fan of the late John Glenn before this film, you definitely will be after. The film shows him in a light where space isn’t the only frontier he is willing to embrace. More importantly, though, Hidden Figures is an inspiring story about a disgusting time in our history and those who worked to overcome it. It is impossible not to cheer for the women in this film. Everyone should see this film.